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The combination of non-compatible plugs and added cost meant that FireWire ended up being largely confined to high-speed storage and the burgeoning digital video and digital audio industries.

Passive cabling is more common, but active cabling could offer some advantages. Despite these benefits, FireWire cost more to implement on a device because it required a separate controller chip in each device. Though Gennum is already highlighting its Thunderbolt transceiver chips, Intel would not say when official specs would be released to other manufacturers, or when other suppliers might be able to offer compatible cabling. And though Apple turned over the FireWire standard to standards body IEEE, the company originally required additional ggennum fees to use the FireWire trademark and logo.

Check Out The Secret High-Tech Circuitry That Controls Apple’s $49 Thunderbolt Cable | Cult of Mac

Designed by Apple and featured on its own computers, the original FireWire standard offered significant speed improvements over USB 1. Link” by Sony—had already begun to gain wide adoption. Chris Foresman Chris is an Associate Writer at Ars Technica, where he has spent the last five years writing about Apple, smartphones, digital gm2033, and patent litigation, among other topics. A ggennum FireWire standard emerged, but used an entirely new 9-pin connector that required adapters to use with 6-pin FireWire devices or 4-pin IEEE devices.


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But Thunderbolt’s high cost in terms of the necessary controllers and relatively expensive active cabling could limit its expansion to the broader market. Without additional suppliers, that could lead to trouble in gaining wider adoption for the standard in the industry. You must login or create an account to comment.

Our telecom source noted that Intel made an unusual choice in also using active cabling for future optical-based iterations of Thunderbolt. Our friends at iFixit made a trip to a local Apple Store to find out what hardware powers Apple’s Thunderbolt cable. These cables contain tiny chips at either end that are calibrated to the attenuation and dispersion properties of the wire between them.

Sony has announced a new Vaio Z laptop that incorporates Thunderbolt controllers from Intel, but uses a proprietary optical connection via a specially modified USB3 port.

Another good reason to use active optical cables, according to our source, “is that your current electrical ports can be forward compatible with future optical cables. That port can connect to a special discrete GPU-equipped docking station that won’t be compatible with standard Thunderbolt peripherals.

Compensating for these properties “greatly improves the signal-to-noise ratio” for high-bandwidth data transmission. Thunderbolt’s high bandwidth and low latency are perfect for these applications.

Intel confirmed that Thunderbolt requires specific Thunderbolt cables.

The technology inside Apple’s $50 Thunderbolt cable | Ars Technica

A support technician told Ars that Apple’s cable is a “smart” cable that “has firmware in it. Furthermore, Intel only mentioned two vendors aside from Apple who were considering adopting Thunderbolt when it announced the technology earlier this year: For one, active cables could combine fiber optics with electrical cabling for power transmission.


A source within the telecom industry explained to Ars that active cables are commonly used at data rates above 5Gbps.

Apple later relaxed the licensing fees, but an alternate 4-pin, non-powered version of FireWire—dubbed “IEEE ” and branded as “i. Apple didn’t respond ng2033 our requests for further information about the “firmware in the cable,” but an EETimes article from earlier this year noted that in addition to having different electrical characteristics from Mini DisplayPort, Thunderbolt also uses active cabling to achieve full duplex 10Gbps transmission.

The situation is not unlike the one that plagued FireWire in its early days. HP ultimately decided it wouldn’t be adopting Thunderbolt in its computers any time soon.

The technology inside Apple’s $50 Thunderbolt cable

So far, though, Apple is the only supplier for Thunderbolt cables. Thunderbolt may be capable of some impressive speeds, but Apple and Intel run the risk of the technology quickly becoming a dead end if Apple remains the only vendor for Thunderbolt-equipped computers as well as Thunderbolt cables.

This made USB a more attractive, less expensive alternative for device makers. Greater third-party support will be the key to the broad market adoption needed to support Thunderbolt in the years to come.